This article is more than 6 years old

TEF results – the sector spin machine gets whiring

UK universities have become world experts in spinning a good story on a ranking, and TEF is no different. Nona Buckley-Irvine has been digging through the Wonkhe inbox for the sector's first reaction.
This article is more than 6 years old

Nona worked as a Policy Assistant at Wonkhe.

The latest TEF update is here.


It’s finally here! Universities will have been in discussions on how to manage the release of TEF 2 for months, press releases agonisingly crafted and deliberated upon. For Wonkhe readers, we have a round-up of just some of the early reaction currently flooding our inboxes.

The ups…

Universities who have secured a Gold award are keen to shout about it. The University of St Andrews and the University of Portsmouth are two institutions celebrating their success. St Andrews Principal graciously states that “it is gratifying to receive recognition through a national award”. Portsmouth vice chancellor Graham Galbraith is “thrilled”. Bangor University claims that its Gold award shows it has teaching of the “highest quality found in the UK”. The University of Worcester has highlighted the areas of strength noted in its provider statement. Meanwhile, Middlesex University, having secured Silver, have drawn attention to the value they place on student voice.

Another Gold winner, Coventry University, has taken a more political tone, claiming that “a new order has been established in university rankings” and that “the TEF is a wake-up call that shows a philosophy of independent learning must be backed up by quality teaching”.

Loughborough has gone for a hilariously novel way of spinning their results, claiming it is now part of a “Golden Six” of universities who secured both Gold in TEF and a top ten place in this year’s Complete University Guide…

In the sector agencies and bodies, there has also been positivity. OFFA’s Les Ebdon welcomes TEF’s use of metrics that control for students’ backgrounds. And HEA has celebrated its role in lobbying for an individual provider submission. QAA has chosen to highlight that all participants, Gold, Silver or Bronze, have “demonstrated world class quality above the threshold quality standards we expect”.

…and the downs

The awarding of Bronze to the London School of Economics, which regards itself as an elite, high-performing institution, is likely to be one of the biggest stories of the day. Its current Interim Director Julia Black did not hide behind excuses of methodology or process, saying that LSE recognises “that we have work to do”. Luckily for the School, it came out on top in last week’s LEO data release, and unsurprisingly points to the graduate employment statistics, as well as new investment into its education facilities, as positives going forward. Few other Bronze institutions have yet to break cover.

The pundits

Nick Hillman says that having visited “fifty universities a year”, he believes the Gold ratings are “well deserved” by those who achieved them. However, he also argues that “the TEF is far from a perfect assessment of teaching and learning”, but that “the fact that some of the results seem surprising suggests it is working”.

The politicians

Today is, of course, Jo Johnson’s time to shine. Having set the direction of travel for TEF in the Conservative manifesto of 2015, his project has now been realised further with today’s results.

Johnson said yesterday that “These results, highlighting the extraordinary strengths of our higher education system, will help students choose which university or college to study at. The Teaching Excellence Framework is refocusing the sector’s attention on teaching – putting in place incentives that will raise standards across the sector and giving teaching the same status as research. Students, parents, employers and taxpayers all have a shared interest in ensuring that higher education equips the next generation of graduates for success.”

The representative bodies

With eleven of their thirty-nine members obtaining Gold awards, GuildHE have much to celebrate. Welcoming the results, Gordon McKenzie praises the approach to measuring the impact on students progression: “other league tables reward universities for taking students with high A-level results in the first place without considering the distance the student has travelled”.

Meanwhile, Universities UK has issued a cautionary note on the use of TEF, with Dame Julia Goodfellow stating “They are not a comprehensive assessment of a university’s academic quality… The scheme will now be subject to a full, independent review in 2019-20 to assess whether it is fit for purpose and helping students.”

The mission groups

The Russell Group, a few of whose members had mixed results, complained about TEF’s methodology: “TEF does not measure absolute quality and we have raised concerns that the current approach to flags and benchmarking could have a significant unintended impact.”

MillionPlus, none of whose members were awarded Gold, criticised the use of the medal system. “The decision to use gold, silver and bronze classifications was also controversial and ministers need to make sure that home, EU and international students are made aware that, regardless of the TEF results, all UK universities meet stringent and world-leading quality benchmarks and indeed some universities have opted not to enter the first year of the TEF.”

And after five of University Alliance’s nineteen members secured Gold awards, the organisation strikes a fairly positive and conciliatory tone, saying “whether or not it becomes a useful tool for applicants, it will certainly make universities think hard about how they can improve their offer to students.”


Which?, the consumer champion organisation, has to endorsed the role of TEF in facilitating consumer choice – but still issues a warning about the use of TEF in decision making, saying “the new rankings are a welcome addition to the information that is already out there but they should not be viewed in isolation.”

It comes as no surprise that UCU has maintained its adversarial approach to TEF, with Sally Hunt stating that “these results will have little credibility within higher education itself. The fear is that students, beyond the UK in particular, will use these results as the basis for deciding which UK university to attend, which could damage some institutions.”

NUS is equally dismissive, with Vice President Sorana Vieru calling TEF “another meaningless university ranking system no one asked for, which the government is introducing purportedly in the name of students”. She instead calls for “an alternative for holding institutions accountable and offering real information to University applicants”.

For the most comprehensive coverage of the Teaching Excellence Framework, follow Wonkhe’s TEF hashtag here

Leave a Reply